Sperry: Italian cypress can be a victim of mites | Sperry

DNeil ear: We have nearly a dozen Italian cypresses in our garden. They seem to be dying, and it’s getting worse. We thought we saw cobwebs on some. What would cause this browning and what can we do to save them?

Responnse: Spider mites attack Italian cypress. They usually start at the bottom of the plants and work their way up and out. Assuming you haven’t applied any type of insecticide or miticide, the best way to know for sure is to bang a branch that’s starting to turn brown (but isn’t already brown) on a sheet of white paper. If you can see ultra-tiny (almost microscopic) spots of reddish-brown starting to move across the paper after 20-30 seconds, it’s spider mites. The type that attacks cypresses and junipers will appear in winter, unlike those we see on tomatoes, beans, marigolds and so many other plants in summer. If you see the mites, spray the plants thoroughly with a general purpose insecticide. Be careful to penetrate all the branches with the spray. However, browned needles will not turn green again. These plants look quite rough. You may ultimately decide that you need to replace them just to get a better look at your landscape. I would suggest Oakland holly as an upright shrub that is better suited and easier to care for.

Dear Neil: It’s our lawyer Lila. I installed it in our garage with a heat lamp last February. It survived, although it bore no fruit. Now the slot in the trunk has gotten much worse. Do you think that will do it?

Responnse: It seems that the trunk and the bark are extremely compromised. He seems to be trying to heal, but only time will tell. Assuming the tree survives, the pot will not be large enough as it grows and develops. You will need a much larger container. Hopefully it heals enough for you to handle it. Keep it moist at all times and protect it from freezing temperatures. You lose a lot of winter hardiness when you have a plant’s root system above ground, and avocados don’t have much winter hardiness in the first place. Good luck!

Dear Neil: This spring, I need to add topsoil and compost to my lawn and aerate the soil. In what order should I do them? Also, I was advised not to add topsoil. Does compost work like topsoil to fill in where erosion has washed away too much soil?

Responnse: Let me break this down into three procedures. First of all, I don’t recommend aerating a lawn unless you have extreme compaction, for example, caused by someone parking on an area for an extended period or children playing football every day and tamping the grass. Aeration is also used when there is a layer of thatch (undecomposed organic matter) above the ground and under the runners. This should not be confused with burnished leaf thatch left over from winter frosts. I guess no aeration is likely to be needed.

The same would be true for adding compost. It adds organic matter, but it breaks down in about a year and you would be left where you are today. Compost would be much better used as a soil amendment in flower and vegetable beds where you re-till the soil every year.

This leaves the topsoil and your need for an erosion remedy. If you are sure that the soil has indeed been washed away, start by determining the source of the water (runoff, runoff, etc.) and how you can alter its flow patterns. Then, to fill in the eroded areas, you may want to dig up the existing sod, put topsoil in the gap, and replant the sod at the correct level. All this should be done at the end of April or May, when the grass is most actively growing. It is best to use topsoil from your own property so that it is perfectly matched in terms of moisture holding capacity and fertility.

Dear Neil: Our red oak was planted by our builder 7 years ago. He did well, but he started to develop this crack (see photo) 3 years ago. It doesn’t seem to affect the tree now, but I’m afraid it might later. What do I have to do?

Responnse: It’s sunstroke. I would bet that this crack is on the west or south side of the trunk where the sun hit it hard. It looks like he is trying to heal and the damage is already done so there is nothing you can do from now on. Hopefully the branches on this side of the trunk will not be affected. For the record, each time an oak, maple or Chinese pistachio tree is planted, it must be protected by a paper envelope for the first two or three summers in its new location. This will protect against this kind of damage. Also, you didn’t ask, but if the tree is as far straight as the photo suggests, you may never be happy with how it looks. The only cure would be to dig it up and reset it, and at that point it might be best to start with a new tree.

Dear Neil: You can see the impact of this year’s first frost in the “before” and “after” photos of our hibiscus plant. We forgot to cover it. Is he lost or do you think he might come back?

Responnse: It is a tropical hibiscus. They are killed by exposure to freezing, especially if it’s for more than a few minutes and if it’s more than a degree or two below zero. There are “hardy hibiscus” types called mallows, but they look completely different. As for this baby, she’s finished. I am sorry.

“Do you have a question for Neil?” Mail it to him in care of this newspaper or email him at [email protected] Neil regrets not being able to answer the questions individually.

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